I’ve been in Japan for the last eight months, so though I still end up spending many hours in front of my computer, somehow whenever I think about writing up something for this blog or even post a few words on the Glorious Trainwrecks stuff I’ve been making, it makes me hypersensitive to the fact that I’ve holed myself up in a room in Tokyo, a city within whose limits I’d be happy to be just about anywhere at any time and I make myself go hop on a train or get some ramen or something.
But here’s a short update on what I’ve been doing with games lately, mostly my most recent, and I think the best thing I’ve done since Caverns of Khron:
This is the most recent game I’ve made, called Super Stone Ball, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s the product of my continued interest in exploring what I can do with fairly traditional platformer mechanics, thoughts on how the player can build things in the game world, and, like many things I’ve made, my continued obsession with Lemmings. It also cannibalizes a lot of the sound effects I made for the never-finished sound-enabled About a Ball game.
It’s small, musicless, and I made it in about 4 hours. Eight stages that scale up in difficulty. Like everything I make, it’s for Windows. Download it at Glorious Trainwrecks!
Other games I’ve made in the last few months:
Shellmar’s Shellulous Journey, a short monochrome mascot platformer with a shield mechanic
Village Vampire Feast, a survival/resource management game
Turtle Lord, a riff on the end of Super Mario Bros. 3
Gavle Goat Guard, a Christmas game made as a gift for SpindleyQ of Glorious Trainwrecks
I can’t believe I made the first post almost half a year ago! Still, I’ve been meaning to write up a few more of my favorite games from Pirate Kart V. With Caverns of Khron recently released and a planned busy late-December working on a handful of other games (in addition to my classes), I figured I’d take a few minutes to write up another ten games.
Elektron’s single-screen platformer is brutally difficult. It’s perhaps a little too ungenerous when it comes to hit detection and so on, but for pixel-perfect, fast-paced platforming, it’s pretty darn good (when I played it x months ago, I got a lot farther than I did before playing it again this evening). Where it really excels is its interesting punishment for failing to clear a level. Rather than giving you finite lives or making you simply repeat the level from the beginning, the game boots you back to the beginning of the previous level. It’s a pretty ingenious approach to progression, as advancing farther really feels earned.
You may know Bento Smile’s name from any of a number of excellently designed games with supremely charming visuals (and a modicum of fame with Air Pressure from a few years back). I’ve played a lot of tower defense games in my time and this is by far the funniest.
Skeletons in the Closet by JF Roco
I never had a Spectrum ZX-82, and have never even seen one (though I recently saw a shelf full of games at a game store in Akihabara). I think I missed out, because people who played that machine a lot went on to make things like La Mulana and a trilogy of games made by JF Roco for Pirate Kart V. This was my favorite of them, a simple but slick, stylish platformer. Obviously, games like this have a special place in my heart, but really, this game’s biggest flaw is (as EffBee notes on the comments section for the game) that it just ends to soon. I could happily play through 50 levels of this.
Proximity Mime by Chris Chung
Are mime jokes old hat? Yes. Did I enjoy this game that involves dodging mimes? Yes. In part, because you yourself play a mime. And further, the mimes have pantomime apples that make you lose. It’s a simple, fun joke played well. Its core dodging and moving feel pretty good too!
In this game, your avatar carries a sword, but more importantly he–like the monsters he fights–is equipped with a set of multi-sided dice (that he gets more of as he levels up, defeating monsters).
The game occasionally rolls entire game boards that are effectively impossible (giving you nothing but enemies with more dice with more sides than your own). But throwing the dice down after entering battle is just quite a bit of fun. It’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing further developed.
Wasps vs. Demons: A Love Story by atuun
A surprisingly long and lush visual novel about the forbidden love between Wasp and Demon royalty. It’s played at just the right tone to be engrossing and ridiculous. The game came about as a result of one of the donor’s request rewards: “Wasps VS Demons! A love story!” It’s basically wonderful.
Also see the game’s Launch Day DLC.
At its heart, Snake is a game about managing your own space as you crawl and grow around the screen collecting pellets. In this one, your body splits and becomes part of a permanent obstacle course, making you design your own level as you go. Pretty clever.
Zaratustra also made another clever thing called “Flip” for the event.
Penguin Lost by Max Weinberg
It may be unfortunately marred by that Game Maker Lite logo in the upper left corner, but this game is just lovely.
That’s all for now! I’ll try to post another handful of games in the next few weeks. I’m going to go searching again through the entire 1,005 games of the Pirate Kart V soon, and I recommend you do as well (download them all free!) to find the gems I’ll miss.
It’s a project that began back in January, and I’m pleased to finally release it to the public today. Caverns of Khron features more than 50 total (40 in the main game) levels, most of which should provide some degree of challenge. I’m honored that the game features an amazing soundtrack by my good friend and frequent collaborator WiL Whitlark (who recently did the soundtrack for Retro Affect’s Snapshot, which you should buy) and that I was able to work with Michael Santiago, who did the background and environmental object graphics as well as the logo design.
I encourage all my visitors to download and play it at the game’s website.
PS: If you’re wondering why some website’s like GameJolt and Indievania have a slightly smaller download size, it’s because I didn’t include a bonus “demo” folder in those releases.
Most of my work in Game Maker lately has been tweaking and finishing Caverns of Khron, which I’m hoping to release within the next couple weeks (before I move to Japan for a year!) and sketching plans for an untitled mermaid game. I haven’t participated in a Glorious Trainwrecks event since June. So though I missed the Klik of the Month Klub no. 62 on Saturday, I spent a couple hours Tuesday night realizing a vague plan for a game I’ve been contemplating for a few months, one where protection is granted in exchange for sacrificing movement.
Enter Shellmar’s Shellulous Journey, a new mascot platformer for the PC!
I didn’t implement all of my ideas in this version, but the core idea is there. Initially, Shellmar was going to have a cannon on his back he could use to thwart enemies who targeted him, but for a quickie implementation of the concept, I think this worked more or less well. The collission detection with the bullets and platforms mayb e a little unkind, and I may offer an update soon. But I’m fairly satisfied with this.
Some time next month, I’m going to release Caverns of Khron, my biggest game project to date. A few months ago, I found a folder in my filing cabinet titled “Miscellaneous Game Development,” containing dozens of pages I wrote and drew between 1996 and 1999. Until I’d found this, I’d basically forgotten about all the games I’d made and planned before I started making ZZT games in 1997. I’d actually been designing games on paper since about 1990, though I didn’t have any kind of computer till 1994. I never learned C++ or any other “real” programming languages save for a very rudimentary knowledge of QBASIC that only equipped me for the simplest text adventures. So, if you’re interested, you’re welcome to join me on a nostalgic, navel-gazing trip through what I thought about making video games before I even knew how.
My cousin Steven introduced me to QBASIC in the mid-nineties, and it was simple enough that I thought I could write a couple small programs. I never actually spent much time with text adventures like Zork (I loved Return to Zork, but couldn’t get my hands on an actual copy of the Zork trilogy until like 1998), but I was in love with the idea, and had played around with a couple MOOs and MUDs, more interested in the promise than any execution of the idea I’d actually seen. Before long, I’d programmed a virtual room-by-room tour of my house–called “My House”–which forever cemented in my mind the cardinal directional layout of Pocatello, Idaho. This and other games would be “published” under a “label” called “Moore-Tech 2000,” and I’d hang this sign on my door:
Please note that this sign only ever hung on my bedroom door. The prices listed were the fees I wanted to charge my two younger sisters to give them copies of these games on their own floppy disks. It was an evolution of when I tried to sell my sisters and cousins the Nintendo fanfiction I’d write and illustrate, bound in construction paper when I was about nine-years-old. I also offered customized games for the low price of only 75 cents to $1.75. I don’t believe I ever made a cent from any of my games, and rightly so. Eventually, I just tried to get my sisters to play them.
Of the games listed, very few without the checkboxes ever were finished. “Text Color” simply changed the color of the MS-DOS text interface. “Pilgrim Hunter” was a text game where the player searched a square field square by square for a turkey to shoot, like a festive, unchallenging “Hunt the Wumpus.” I also apparently finished something called “J.C.,” but I have no idea what that might have been. I seem to have been planning something called “Aquaria,” and considering my then-interests, it surely involved mermaids.
Sadly, I finally disposed of my 486 PC last year, which had what I’m sure were the only remaining copies of all the games I worked on, including the first game I ever published, “UFO Invasion,” a QBASIC text adventure uploaded to AOL and co-written with my friend Caleb. I also once had extensive pages of planning for the sequel, which I intended to be a Wolfenstein-like FPS. Also there was another collaboration with Caleb, a Christmas-themed game called “The Reindeer Riots,” though I can’t remember for the life of me what actually happened in it.
“Magic Learner” is the one for which I have the most documents still and was the first game I intended to be released in the world of “Khron,” a text adventure with a magic casting system and a fair amount of open exploration, to be later paired with a game called “Power Quest” which would be a text adventure with an action and strength orientation. I’d written some amount of lore for the games’ story world, and even drew maps. Below is a map of the game world and a modified one broken up into a navigable grid for use in the game.
Of course, these papers are what inspired me to name my current game “Caverns of Khron” (before that, it was called “Ruins of Bufannei,” a contraction of “Bullshit Fantasy Name”). If you’re worried about Khron canon, understand that the game actually takes place in Greschden Caverns, but the game doesn’t bear that name because it sounds stupid.
Note the copyright date on the map. The world of Khron existed contemporarily with our own, but with a 1,960 year date offset. P.D., I assume, once meant something.
I’d begun a Halloween-themed horror adventure game called “Mansion,” where the player explores a large mansion during a Halloween party to discover dark secrets.
This game eventually evolved into “Jack O’Lantern,” which began life as a text adventure, and I distinctly remember drawing this map for it in my ninth grade speech class:
In 1997, I learned about ZZT, and found it a more attractive design platform. I actually adapted this design pretty faithfully into a ZZT game that I published.
In those days, all my ZZT designs happened on paper before they happened onscreen. I have pages and pages of ZZT-OOP code for games like the unfinished “Bob 3: The Amazon Adventure” and “Zem! X” which I began work on in 1998 and didn’t finish until 2002.
With my early ZZT games, I employed a “star” system like Tezuka Osamu’s, featuring recurring characters playing different parts in each story. It was silly, but I was in love with the idea. In the “Zem! X” paper, I love where I drew a picture explaining to myself what I saw in my mind and how I had to express it with ASCII characters.
My ambition was not limited to what I could conceivably produce at the time, of course. What I wanted to make followed my interests, which in the mid-nineties became largely focused on real-time strategy games. I have about a dozen pages of notes for “Medieval” and its expansion “Medieval Quests,” featuring a total of five factions, with unique units and campaigns.
I also possessed a strange, obsessed fascination with LCD games, and went as far as to plan the screens for half a dozen games on paper. One of these, “Mythical Commander” (left) was an intended LCD real-time strategy game. “Blif the Blot” (right) was a mascot platformer that had a secret versus mode.
Beginning in my later teenage years, I fell in love with the link cable racing game included in Super Mario Bros. DX for the Game Boy Color, and plotted an intricate expansion of the game called Super Mario Arena, featuring a character roster with different abilities, power-ups, and a greater focus on competitive combat. I possessed some vain hope that Nintendo would somehow find out about my plans and accept my pencil drawings as the design document for a million-seller Game Boy Color game and a long career in making video games.
I continued to make ZZT games and began playing around with Megazeux. Eventually, I became more interested in filmmaking than my once-intended career of glamorous, professional video game development and programming. I kept my toes wet, working on a graphic adventure game and an online RPG fighter with my cousin, though neither project came to full fruition, and I only advised design and worked on graphics. I wonder what would’ve happened if instead of ZZT, someone had handed me a copy of Klik N’ Play (I saw it in software catalogs, and after it I lusted), or if Game Maker had come into my life a decade before it did.
I’m going up to my mother’s house in a couple weekends. I’m hoping to dig up some more of these kinds of papers. I have a vague dream about picking up one of the other game concepts I know I had once upon a time and seeing if I can’t bring it to life with what I know now, just to fulfill my 13-year-old self’s dreams on some level. It’s been somewhat inspiring to examine what I used to think about games, see where I’m similar, and see where I’m the same.
And at the very least, the 16-years-in-the-making Khron world of games will finally see the light.
I’ve now written ad nauseum about my own Pirate Kart V games, so I’d like to turn the spotlight to a number of excellent contributions by others. Among the 1,027 games in the Kart, I confess I’ve only played somewhere around 300 to 400 of them, so this can by no means be comprehensive (and these are just ten of twenty-five I plan to do small write-ups about; I’ll be doing a follow up or two with additional games I don’t get to in this post, and others I discover later). I’d strongly recommend you download the Pirate Kart launcher and browse around at random, looking for new, exciting, and hilarious things, an addition to playing what I recommend below. And also to make your own game at the next event at Glorious Trainwrecks (there are two to four events per month and I try to participate as often as I can!).
These games are presented in a more or less arbitrary order. I mean no insult to anyone whose games I don’t feature. Every game in the Kart is valuable because, and everyone should have their game played. But I wanted to share some of my favorites.
Dark Scorcerer by Ryleigh Kostash
There are a lot of things I like about Ryleigh Kostash‘s Dark Scorcerer. The player character is a dark sorcerer (or, I suppose, scorcerer) whose magic bullets grow and gain in power as they travel across the screen. You have to dodge the knights as you attempt to kill them. The knights give you points, but also drop multiplier mods you have to pick up to stack onto your existing modifier, which quickly balloons into a gigantic number. And if that number hits you, you also die. It’s a game about navigating space and manipulating numbers with a natural, somewhat comical difficulty curve. It also just feels really good to play.
Win Condition by Hugs
This game borrows heavily from the last screens of The Legend of Zelda for an enjoyable exploration of how video games can end. There are, I believe, five different endings, though I’ve only reached four. Find as many as you can. The game’s cheeky as hell, and has a splendid sense of humor, and feels like a pretty good approximation of Zelda‘s core mechanics to boot.
I won’t give you any more than that, because it’s largely about the joy of discovery. I’ve perhaps already revealed too much.
Action Figure Fighter by Kirkjerk
A brilliantly simple and utterly adorable idea. A mashup of arcade fighting games and that box full of action figures from your childhood. Its aesthetic is simple, and totally pitch perfect.
Also strongly recommended is another Kirkjerk entry into Pirate Kart V, DinoBeeBoxer.
Absolute Chaos Dog by Yuliy
Balance your physical need of food, obtainable by obediently performing the tricks your human overlords request of you, against your desire to achieve chaos and anarchy, accomplished by rebelling against those same demands, in your desire to become the Absolute Chaos Dog. The game’s input is smart and unique, and the tone of the presentation is really fun. The game has three endings, but only one allows you to achieve the status of Absolute Chaos Dog.
Rapid Fire Your Hookshot to Glory and Death by Damian Sommer
An alteration of Sommer’s own Context Insensitive, this works very well as its own, standalone, fast-pace single screen platformer. The hookshot mechanic is used to navigate very narrow spiky passages and impossibly long jumps. It feels tight and its aesthetic is great. A lot of fun.
Chris Whitman made two games in his “Famous Authors” series and a making-of in the same style featuring himself making the game. He uses them as a good platform for some good comedy both about his subjects and game inputs.
Realistic Female First-Person Shooter by Anna Anthropy
Adapted from a gallingly sexist post by some men’s right forum poster named XTC, Anthropy executes a ridiculous concept brilliantly in the best kind of mockery.
I also gotta say, too, I’m kind of in love with how this game looks. Anthropy is really excellent with her video game visuals.
Super Thwomp Bros. by Dock
I’ve got a serious soft spot for games that put you in the shoes of the enemy. I’ve also got a particular fondness for doing that with enemies from the Mario series (and I’ve done it myself in my game Hammer Bro.!, though you didn’t have to kill Mario in that game). Playing with how a different character in a familiar world plays is a fun experiment. This game is, of course, much like the excellent Spike: A Love Story, albeit much cuter and shorter.
PepsiMan Generations by Topher Florence
With such a relentlessly, garishly hip aesthetic (everyone and their Coke can in sunglasses, wild Spring Break cam), a feverish confusion of the same things (the game is called PepsiMan Generations, stars a Coke Can, and the executable is called drpepper.exe) and some seriously wacky but precise controls, this is some modern pop art masterpiece.
But could we expect any less from DocFuture?
It began in January and I’ve been refining and creating levels since. My first major game release is coming soon, targeted for release as freeware by the end of July.
I’ve drawn heavy inspiration from quite a few games, but most especially Monuments of Mars and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Though the game has pretty simple basic elements (the player character can jump, swing a sword, and toss throwing stars), my goal has been to execute a relatively simple set of actions with sharp and polished level design. I’m hoping that’s what I’ve accomplished.
The image above shows off unfinished background graphics. Adding that coat of paint is to be my last phase of working on the game, as knowing where my platforms, doors, and switches are located has been my primary focus. There will be over 40 stages in all.
I’m pleased to report that my friend WiL Whitlark is providing the game’s soundtrack. WiL has worked with me in scoring my feature film, Legends of Minigolf: The Flamingo’s Challenge, as well as numerous short films, including The Mustache and The Importance of Tolerance.